[In this sparky presentation given at GDC Mobile 2008 - and originally printed on Gamasutra sister website Games On Deck, freelance game journo Stuart Dredge took a look at the key bugbears and likes of game journalists - closing with a key final slide of “5 Things You Hate About Journalists -- And What To Do About Them.”]
In his presentation - aimed at mobile games but very applicable to the entire game biz - Dredge looked at hundreds of reviews on the site he helps run, Pocket Gamer, and found a list of loves and hates that, often, had very surprising differences.
A good example of this came early in his session, finding that while reviewers absolutely hated dodgy instructions, full of mistakes or poor grammar, they, rather than simply loving "good instructions" actually loved games with no instructions.
This didn't mean that developers could skimp and simply fail to include them, but that reviewers much preferred games where the gameplay was obvious or taught through play.
Sometimes the lessons were harsh, such as the hate, "Unfair AI": "I feel a bit harsh talking about poor AI in mobile games, as there's not a lot of space to work with," said Dredge, "but there are tons of examples where games are too hard because they're unfair. In a mobile game frustration is a terrible thing, as the moment you're frustrated you'll turn it off."
And sometimes, the lessons were controversial, as with another hate -- games that were too short. "This is kind of a controversial one," Dredge noted, showing two quotes from two reviews: one stating that a game was too short at 20 minutes long, another noting that two hours was too short. "I think that twenty minutes is definitely too short for a mobile game, but in many cases publishers might feel that two hours is long enough for a casual game if a player has a good experience."
Reviewers might have hated games which were too short, but unusually they loved games which were easy. Dredge pointed out that in mobile games being easy is not necessarily a negative thing, with reviewers often feeling that even if a game was easy as long as the experience of the game was continually fun it was considered a positive aspect. Dredge used quotes about "easy" games including Gameloft's Stranded
to emphasise his point.
Anything which worked to make games harder than they needed to be was a hate, including fiddly controls. "Fiddly controls are a constant bugbear. A game where you don't think about the controls is perfect, but any game where you think about them, even battle with them, is a real problem," said Dredge.
In turn, Dredge noted that simple controls, specifically one-button games, are generally very well reviewed. Even games that seem like they should be complex, such as an air traffic control simulator, were very well reviewed thanks to their simple controls.
In an industry almost completely swamped with brands, it's no surprise that disappointment with poorly translated brands is a major hate for reviewers. "In the last year the Simpsons game, the Deal or No Deal game and the Transformers game have disappointed me personally, because I love those brands," said Dredge.
He continued: "Reviewers will be very hard on a game that makes poor use of a brand. A bad branded game isn't just bad for the reviewers it's bad for the industry: if a reviewer gives a bad branded game a terrible review but it sells hundreds of thousands of copies, publishers tell us ‘you must be wrong!' well, perhaps we are, but what if we're not? What if hundreds of thousands of people have ended up with a game they didn't like? They might never buy another game."
Rewarding the player regularly was found to be a positive, however. Dredge specifically noted casual games, such as those that have come from the online casual games space, are particularly good at this, offering regular rewards that make the player feel good about playing the game, extending their play time.
Further able to extend playtime was replayability: "Reviewers really do love this. The games that stay on journalists' handsets for months are these games -- the titles where you're trying to get that elusive third star on level four, for example. It's part of the reason why aspects such as achievements have been so well received on Xbox Live Arcade, and we'll see more of that on mobile."
Games are only going to be worth playing, however, if they've got variety, and Dredge felt it was "very common" to see "games where you have many different mini-games that look different but are actually all minor variations on hitting buttons in time. Journalists really do try and play games to the end and that's why we come down so hard on games that are repetitive."
Variety and replayability was offered by games which had "side-depth," another journalist love. Dredge noted examples such as Digital Chocolate's Pyramid Bloxx
and Tower Bloxx
, which feature build empire/city modes, which are side quests that are not required to play but a fun aspect that aids replayability. Dredge said again that "these are the games that tend to stay on journalist's phones."
One final hate was particularly personal for Dredge: "Casual Misogyny." He recounted an anecdote about discussing Sexy Babes Wild Watersides
with a group of female friends at the pub and how disgusted they were with a description of a game where you fire a water cannon at women to "make their clothes go see-through."
"This is an industry where over 50% of the market is female. It's disingenuous," Dredge raged.
Dredge closed with a short slide on "5 things you hate about journalists," exploring the most common complaints developers and publishers have about journalists, such as a focus on big publishers, or that journalists tend to be "too hardcore."
Surprisingly conceding to the majority of the complaints, Dredge invited the publishers and developers to work more closely with journalists to ensure they receive what they believe is fair coverage, asking that, for example, if the game is aimed at 11 year old girls, make sure the journalist understands the brand and the intentions for the title before they give it (unknowingly) a terrible review for being childish.
Finally, Dredge wanted to point out 10 cellphone games that he felt everyone in the room should play, including IGF Mobile Best Game winner Critter Crunch
from Capybara Games, Mobile Battles: Reign of Swords
from IGF Mobile Best Design winner Punch Entertainment (for Ego
) and other titles including Urban Attack
from Vivendi; Playman Extreme Running
from Real Arcade and Crazy Window Cleaners
from Digital Chocolate.